Prasad rules out extension of CAS deadline

NEW DELHI: India?s information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad today categorically ruled out any extension of the 14 July deadline of CAS and also attempted to convey to broadcasters that since bundling of pay channels would not be allowed, earlier they come out with the individual pricing of each pay channels, the better.

The minister also hinted that neighbouring townships of the metros --- like Noida and Gurgaon near Delhi --- here CAS is being sought to be implemented in the first phase may be included for a rollout.

In turn, representatives of the cable industry assured the minister that orders for a sizeable number of set-top boxes, needed to route pay channels in a CAS regime, have been placed --- 2 million boxes by Siti Cable and over 2.5 lakh by HTMT (along with a committed capacity of an additional 1.25 million boxes).

Another topic that came up for discussion was the issue of variable pricing of pay channels in the same city depending on the socio-economic strata of the cable consumer.

Pointing out that discounting of pay channels? prices is an issue between the content and service provider where government does not see itself playing any role, Prasad, however, emphasised that whatever may be the case, the pay channels would have to be necessarily routed through set-top boxes.

According to government sources, the representative of the Hinduja-owned HTMT, which manages the INCablenet in various cities told the minister, that ICICI has evinced interest in making available funds for procuring boxes. This probably would be the first case of a private sector financial organisation coming out to extend financial help to a sector like cable that has always been considered by banks and financial institutions as a high-risk business.

The sources also said that interestingly INCablenet representative expressed his concern over the delaying tactics being adopted by broadcasters on pay channels? price vis-?-vis the investment already made by the company in anticipation of a timely rollout of CAS.

INCablenet is one MSO that seems to have become the target of most broadcasters in Mumbai where `switching off? is concerned.

In a meeting today with the multi-system operators, the first of a new series of meeting that the government would have with the stakeholders of the broadcasting and cable industry to facilitate a smooth rollout of CAS, the minister while allaying some fears of the cable industry, also expressed his concern at the delay on the broadcasters? part to come out with the pricing of individual pay channels.

The minister reiterated that the government would not allow any form of bundling of pay channels. Last week, I&B ministry secretary Pawan Chopra in an interview first made this fact official with

This move may put paid to some thoughts the broadcasters may be harbouring on cobbling together a super bundle of channels cutting across various bouquets.

Prasad also heard the other concerns of the cable industry and, according to the sources, conveyed to the MSOs that if need be, the government would step in to facilitate an early announcement of the individual pricing 

of pay channels by broadcasters.

Today?s meeting was attended by senior executives from Siti Cable, INCablenet, Hathway, RPG and Spectranet, amongst others. After this meeting, it is expected that a meeting with broadcasters would be scheduled.

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